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I am trying to remember the name of a book (or maybe a short story, I can't think of enough to flesh it out to novel length.)
I don't recall when I read it but its probably at least 30+ years ago.

The story involves a man in Egypt. He has spent a couple of years(?) supervising people securely packing and storing manuscripts, tablets, maps, papyrus scrolls, and arranging remote hidden storage areas to store them. (Possibly caves or tombs, or maybe they were being stored in the cargo hold a ship during the story awaiting a full load for transport.)

When he first arrived in the area and arranged housing, while he was doing all this, he had acquired slaves to cook, clean, manage and maintain his house, and others to do the work of packing and transporting the material. Eventually, one of the house slaves catches his eye and they became romantically involved and he falls in love with her. (I don't know if he freed and married her, or if she just became his concubine.)

As he is nearing completion of packing all the material he is collecting, he discovers she is seriously sick and dying. She has been sick for weeks, but she and the other household slaves have been covering it up, so as not to disturb him as he's been so busy.

I think she dies just before or just as the city he is in starts burning and he is finishing up and moving the last loads of material to secure caves (or to the boats.)

He is cursing himself for not noticing she was sick, and the house slaves for not telling him she was sick.

As the city is burning, and he is leaving, we discover that the city is Alexandria. All things he had been collecting were from its library. It's revealed that he is a time traveler sent back in time to try to save the library. He is thinking if he had known she was sick he could have finished up a few weeks earlier and taken her with him when he returned to the future so she could be cured.

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  • Time traveling to the Library of Alexandria is a popular plotline it seems. Time Travelers Never Die, and Unburning Alexandria come up. Both are too new for your description unless they were re-released
    – Vogon Poet
    Oct 11, 2019 at 6:41
  • CHecdking the descriptions, neither seems a match. The first, its a Son searching for his father, and the second, the protagonist is a woman. I also think more likely it was a short story or novella.
    – NJohnny
    Oct 11, 2019 at 22:41

1 Answer 1

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I think you might be referring to Written In Sand by Robert Chilson.

A time traveller, Paul Enias, has gone back to save texts from the Library of Alexandria. He spends several years in the past where he purchases land, puts scrolls into clay pots and has them buried in a cave. While there, he falls in love with a woman named Tia, who dies at the opening of the story. In grief he has her buried amongst the pots of scrolls, seals the cave, and goes back to his own time. The shock of his time traveling, and the loss of his love, take their toll emotionally on him. This ‘temporal shock’ is lightly mocked and by his peers and they assume he’ll just get over it in time and give him little empathy.

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  • That does sound very much like it. I just need to get a copy so I can confirm it.
    – NJohnny
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:46
  • Yes it is. I found a copy of the ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE on line at luminist.org and read it there. That IS the story. Thanks!
    – NJohnny
    Mar 5, 2022 at 16:10

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